Monday, 20 October 2014



The Audacity of Hard Ground


A strange man came to the front door early on Saturday. I was working at the dining room table and watched him walk up the drive. A disease marketer, I thought. Which one? I wondered. Every natural cause that must necessarily kill us seems to be one donation away from being eradicated or beaten (Ebola being the latest exception). I was staggered when he announced he represented the federal Liberal Party.


Our next national election is scheduled to be contested almost exactly one year from now. In 2006 the Harper Government amended the Canada Elections Act dictating that every seat in parliament was up for grabs once more on the third Monday in October in the fourth calendar year since the last time our three major parties hit the hustings. Of course the governor general upon the advice of the prime minister may call an election at any time before the hard deadline. Prior to 2006 a sitting government could linger into the fifth year of its mandate before summoning citizens to the polls. This delaying tactic was rarely utilized as it was consider bad form. So, we’re left with a firm election date tempered by a snap election option. This weird Canadian-American electoral hybrid speaks to the country’s endless and futile struggle to define national identity beyond the scope of hockey and donuts: are we us or them? 


‘Christ,’ I said to the Liberal canvasser, ‘you’re out of the gate early.’ Our riding is Edmonton-Strathcona: we’re hip pinkos as New Democrat Linda Duncan has represented us in parliament since 2008; every other federal seat in the province is shat upon by a Harper Conservative. He handed me a laminated bookmark. CHANGE IS HAPPENING. There’s a mug shot of our October 2015 Liberal candidate, glasses, a bobbed pageboy ‘do. Her given name is Eleanor. Her surname is On the reverse side there’s a shot of Eleanor standing beside party leader Justin Trudeau. Big grins, the future looks bright. The significance of the bookmark format did not strike me until today.


Last week a magically charismatic Canadian and something of a stoned savant published a memoir. We made a special trip to the bookstore to buy ‘Special Deluxe,’ Neil Young’s companion volume to ‘Waging Heavy Peace.’ Bookstores are beginning to creep me out. I can’t turn around without seeing Hillary Rodham Clinton’s frozen chipmunk smile. ‘Hard Choices’ is stacked in hardcover, ‘Living History’ in towers of trade paper editions. She’s staring at me as she and Bubba gird to get the White House back even if they have to stay married to do it. Her books are manifest destiny lessons learned from Barrack Obama’s ‘The Audacity of Hope.’


The Liberal bookmark can only take us to one place, ‘Common Ground,’ the advance election little red book manifesto and memoir of Justin Trudeau, now available (I confess to scanning the exclusive excerpt in Saturday’s National Post for dope on his mum hanging out with the Rolling Stones in 1977). Perhaps it’s no surprise that an evolving American technique has been imported north of 49 in this age of digitized information. A memoir should come with experience, such as leading the official opposition or learning the political ropes in a cabinet post. The writer pauses and reflects only after there is something worthwhile to write down. Neil Young may not remember that ‘southern man don’t need him around anyhow,’ but he’s left his own distinctive mark upon this planet – even if some of it was a haze of reverb and feedback or lo-fi meowing.


Anyone who’s ever held a job knows that the most dangerous person in the workplace is the imbecile with power. This is the dilemma of Justin Trudeau. Is he off-the-cuff witty (I laugh at his remarks but it’s not as if we’re enjoying a beer together) or just a media-manipulating photogenic moron? Normally I ask for five dollars and a mickey of gin in exchange for my vote when a Liberal worker comes to the door. If they get the old Quebec price we grin, if they don’t they look at me as if I’m crazy. This time I said, ‘Keep that boy off Twitter. The kid’s got nothing to say.’

The strange man nodded, turned around and walked away. I watched him go. Thing is, the Liberals under Justin have a chance next year, maybe even Eleanor too here in Edmonton-Strathcona. The ‘natural governing party’ could be back in the saddle again. I put on ‘A Letter Home,’ the latest Neil Young album. This voice has the hard-won timbre of experience. This guy’s seen a little bit; this guy knows a little bit. There is substance and substance abuse, and some fried, high-flying rhetoric. Neil would make for one bizarre prime minister. But at least he’s been around the block a few times.

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